“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1, NASB95)
It’s a whole lot easier to detect a lie when you know the truth, and nothing has changed in this regard over time. Looking back to the prophets, Peter stated that they were not alone. As they spoke so did the false prophets, and people had to discern the difference. Nothing had changed in this regard. As Peter was writing to them there was the present threat that false teachers would even come into the midst and seek to lead them astray. False prophets and teachers were nothing new, and neither are they anything new today. They have been and will continue to be around. It is for that reason that Peter turns his attention from those who spoke truth from God to those who would be speaking lies.
Looking back to Deuteronomy we find that God spoke though Moses on this very issue. In a longer passage on the issue we read this short excerpt, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.” (Deuteronomy 13:1–4, NASB95)
Even then it was known that there were people who were out to sell a false, though very appealing and even convincing “bill of goods.” What they said might even have been backed by signs and wonders, but it was not backed by truth. God laid out for them a standard which was to follow Him, to do as He said, to listen to His voice and serve Him, and to cling to Him. They were to seek after God with their whole hearts, to hide His word in their hearts, and to obey it fully. They were not to allow any room in them for anyone who might attempt to lead them down any other path. In fact, what followed in this passage is the strong instruction for what was to happen to these false prophets and others who might seek to lead them astray.
Putting away false teachers was important enough to God that He instituted a death penalty among the people. They were to be responsible to purge evil from their midst for their own preservation as a nation. This penalty is not enacted in Israel today, but the purging in other ways is a broader principle that even the church is to observe. We see this in 1 Corinthians when it comes to the blatant sin of a person in the church where we read, “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” (1 Corinthians 5:11–13, NASB95) In the English Standard Version we read in this last verse, “God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”” (1 Corinthians 5:13, ESV), which is a quote from the passage Deuteronomy 13:5.
Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15–20, ESV) The standard hasn’t changed. These false prophets will show themselves by what they say and do, and by knowing what God has said and what He calls us to do we will be enabled to know the difference.
We know they will come. They have always come, and there is no reason to believe that they will cease until such time as Jesus returns and shuts them down. In their coming, they are also very deceptive. What they have to say may sound close, and they might look and act right in their approach. But they will show themselves, and we are to be on our guard. We are not to live in fear of them, but we are to live aware that they are there while being even more aware that our God holds us firmly in His hands.
As Paul was preparing to go to Jerusalem and on to Rome, after he had left Ephesus for the last time he called the Ephesian elders to him and shared this, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:29–32, ESV) There was no doubt that evil would try to devour the church and to lead even its leaders astray. Paul knew this without a doubt, and he also knew that he would not be with them to help them see the difference. His instruction to them was to be alert and to remember what they had seen and heard. They knew the teaching they had received from Paul and they knew the heart of Paul and how he lived before them. They were to remember his example as they looked at all who would follow, and they were to measure everyone carefully to the sake of the church. But more than that, Paul encouraged them with the constant presence of Christ and the hope that they had in Him that He would continue to grow them into His image as they walked according to His ways.
We have a standard given to us by our God. It is found in His inerrant word and it is to be evidenced before us in those who God has given us as our leadership. Any who march to a different drum are to be drummed right out. God will deal with them. He is their judge, and He will not fail. Our task is to keep looking to Him and using His standard as our standard for life and godliness. The responsibility of our church leaders is to oversee the flock and to guard it by the same standard by which He has also called us. We only have one Master.